Although he’s unarguably one of the most versatile working filmmakers, Francois Ozon’s movies have always suffered from lackluster screenplays. He either lets his ideas get the best of him and delivers convoluted plots (like in Swimming Pool) or he allows the style of the picture to engulf it, often leading to nonsensical — but gorgeous — films (like Potiche). His latest film, an adaptation of a play by Spanish writer Juan Mayorga, might be his most mature work to date.
In the House weaves a tale reminiscent of Hitchcock by way of Michael Haneke, as we discover the endless layers of pleasure and horror concealed in the simple act of storytelling. Fabrice Luchini plays a teacher who becomes obsessed with a story being written by one of his students, a teenager named Claude (Ernst Umhauer) who has become obsessed with the family of one of his classmates and writes about them. Although Germain knows he should report him to the principal, he becomes so invested in this literary voyeurism that he even discusses Claude’s work with his wife Jeanne (a stunning Kristin Scott Thomas) leading to a game reminiscent of the Arabian Nights.
While the film is visually wondrous, with Ozon referencing Rear Window and Douglas Sirk — if he had been working in the 1990’s — it’s the film’s tight screenplay which captures our imagination, as it should be in a story about stories. The dialogue is rich, satirical and delicious, with Claude delivering lines that might as well have come from a hedonistic Oscar Wilde character, while Ozon’s mise-en-scene and his extreme attention to details convey a sense that everything was once words he had to interpret.
While some filmmakers take pride in their need to do it all in their projects, it’s a pleasure to see Ozon allowing someone else’s original work reinvigorate his sense of the visual. As someone who once adapted Elizabeth Taylor’s Angel, filling it with over the top dialogue and an awkward sense of romance, and who was written all of his movies, it’s impossible not to see what new creative influence added to the table. It’s not a disservice to compliment Ozon for his abilities adapting others’ work, instead it leaves us craving more of his work.
In the House is now playing in select theaters.